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'Gardai picked up trail like breadcrumbs' - Addict stole nearly €1m from employer

Conrad Mason
Conrad Mason

A former company director stole almost a million euro from his employer over six years to feed his alcoholism and gambling addiction, a court has heard.

Conrad Mason (46) will be sentenced at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court on May 23 for stealing a total of €908,652 from David Dixon of cleaning specialists C&G Logistics Group, on dates between January 2010 and January 2015.

Mason pleaded guilty today to 25 sample counts of theft and fraud, representing a total of 234 wrongful transactions from the company account to his own various bank accounts.

Mason, of Elm Mount Close, Beaumont, Dublin worked for C&G as company accountant since August 1997 and was promoted to the position of director in 2004.

The court heard that C&G Logistics Group comprises two related companies involved in the warehousing, transport and pumping over of hazardous and non-hazardous chemicals for the agriculture and water treatment sectors.

Detective Sergeant Margaret Morrell told the court that between August 2014 and July 2015, Mason had transferred over €250,000 from the company to two accounts in his name at Bank of Ireland, College Green and Ulster Bank in Ballsbridge.

When this emerged, Mr Dixon contacted Mr Mason’s wife who was shocked and surprised and told him that her husband has had a gambling problem for years.

Mason phoned his boss from hospital and came clean, saying he had been taking funds from the company over the past five or six years, and that he had gambled it with Paddy Power, primarily in online slot machines.

Mr Dixon told gardai that the company had suffered a major blow to its cash reserve since the fraud had been uncovered and had spent a great deal of time trying to recover and "pick up the pieces". 

He said his company was "suffering on a day-to-day basis", and that on a personal note, his trust and faith in people had been "totally undermined and diminished".

Mason has no previous convictions.

Michael Bowman SC, defending Mason, described him as a "self-made man" who had left school after the Leaving Cert and worked his way up with no formal qualifications to become "highly-esteemed" at work.

His said Mason's motivation was a "deep-seated addiction" and not a "get rich quick scheme", and that he did not exhibit the trappings of an ostentatious lifestyle or material wealth.

Judge Karen O'Connor adjourned the matter for sentencing until May 23.

Dt Sgt Morrell agreed with prosecuting barrister Antonia Boyle BL that Mason had always been seen as a "loyal and trusted" member of senior management until a marked change in his performance in late 2013 and early 2014.

The court heard that his work dropped below standard and he did only the minimum required on a day-to-day basis, and his boss David Dixon tried in vain to get him moving in the IT area and upgrade to a better system.

When Mr Dixon challenged Mason about his work practices, Mason said he suffered from depression and denied rumours circulating in the workplace about alcoholism.

However, as his performance continued to decline it became evidence that Mason's alcohol issues were getting worse, and Mr Dixon advised him to get help.

He attended two counsellors for alcohol addiction and depression but a turning point came in 2015 when he returned from his lunch break drunk and had to be brought home by colleagues for his own safety.

Mason agreed to undertake residential treatment at St Patrick's Hospital in Dublin in July 2015, and Mr Dixon asked experienced chartered accountant, Tom O'Brien, to work for the company during Mason's absence.

Before Mason's treatment began, he was to work alongside Mr O'Brien during a handover period, which Mr O'Brien found to be very frustrating.

He said it was apparent to him that the company's finances were in chaos and that Mason had lost control. Bank reconciliation hadn't been paid for months and payments to several suppliers were overdue.

Mr O'Brien found Mason's behaviour unpredictable; at times helpful and at times evasive, and said it took him over two weeks to gain access to the company's online banking system towards which Mason was "very protective".

It became clear to Mr O'Brien that records simply hadn't been kept up-to-date and that the company was "tight for cash", which came as a surprise to Mr Dixon when it was pointed out to him.

Mr O'Brien's immediate concern was to ensure that basic finance functions were being maintained but he identified an "unusual" payment which had been made on July 14, 2015 for around €3,000 from the company account.

His suspicious aroused, Mr O'Brien briefed Mr Dixon and discovered that between August 2014 and July 2015, Mason had transferred over €250,000 from the company to two accounts in his name at Bank of Ireland, College Green and Ulster Bank in Ballsbridge.

Mason supplied his former employer with his bank statements on request and was arrested on suspicion of theft and fraud offences in April 2016.

Mason made full admissions to gardai, saying that the main way he had stolen the money was by "putting it through the online banking system for the payroll".

Ms Boyle BL, prosecuting, told the court that the vast majority of the misappropriated funds, covering 216 transactions which totalled almost €800,000, related to Mason's use of "bulk payments" to his Ulster Bank account.

The remainder comprised direct transfers to Mason's various other bank accounts including his Bank of Ireland account and his joint account with his wife, although she had been unaware of any illegality.

In 2010, Mason had used a "very simple construct" using payroll software to misappropriate funding but by 2013 the court heard the amounts increased in an exponential manner.

The court heard that Mason's father had taken his own life and that Mason had never truly grieved or overcame this emotional trauma, instead turning to alcohol and then to gambling, ending up as an in-patient in St Patrick's Hospital.

Mr Bowman said that his client also used a "very simple construct" in terms of the movement of funds, using his own bank accounts and a Paddy Power account also in his own name.

"Gardai were able to pick up the trail like breadcrumbs," said Mr Bowman, adding that Mason was very cooperative with the investigation and alleviated the burden on the court system, gardai and jurors.

Mason's wife left him and his home was sold, with his share of €130,000 being paid over to the company solicitors in recompense.

"He is effectively a broken man," said Mr Bowman, saying that Mason had lost not only his wife, his job and his home but also his reputation and standing within his peers and the community.

He said Mason's alcohol addiction quickly spiralled out of control and he literally accessed a gambling device on his phone and "spun the wheel" time and time again.

"His fall from grace has been as complete as it has been spectacular," said Mr Bowman, acknowledging that there had been an "egregious breach of trust".

Mason apologised through his barrister to Mr Dixon, saying he knew his employer had had his best interests at heart when he encouraged him to go for treatment.

Jessica Magee